From the Fran Cronin campaign, June 22, 2017: Cambridge School Committee candidate Fran Cronin released the first of four white papers on her campaign priorities to a crowd gathered June 27 at Atwood’s Tavern, near Inman Square in East Cambridge, establishing her commitment to expanding access to high-quality early childhood education.

“Early childhood education lays the foundation for lifelong social and emotional development; supports continuous cognitive development; eases a single mother’s access to stable employment; and is the best investment we can make to improve educational outcomes,” Cronin said.

Access to early childhood education is urgent, especially for families with the greatest need, she said.

Featured guest speaker state Sen. Sal DiDomenico, who recently released the state Senate’s first of three educational reports, “Kids First,” also stressed urgency. “We cannot ignore the fact that some children arrive for school each day having come from homes experiencing economic challenges, food insecurity, trauma and other obstacles beyond their control that impede their ability to learn,” DiDomenico said.

State Rep. Marjorie Decker and former state Rep. and former mayor of Cambridge Alice Wolf, both longtime advocates of early childhood education, were also present to show support for Cronin and her effort to turn up the heat on expanding availability of high-quality early childhood education to low-income and minority students.

Cronin said that in Cambridge’s 2016-17 kindergarten class of 597 students, 40 percent were high needs, meaning they presented with multiple risk factors upon starting school, such as having a learning disability or coming from a home that is economically disadvantaged or where English is not the home language.

This statistic corresponds with the state’s demographic profile of Cambridge. In addition to almost 30 percent of the district’s student body being identified as special needs, almost 50 percent of all Cambridge students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches, an indication of home poverty.

A recent district assessment of third-graders revealed that almost 33 percent did not test proficient at grade-level reading. Research has established third-grade reading ability as a critical marker; children who have not developed strong literacy skills by the end of the third grade are often left behind and unable to keep up as reading becomes necessary for learning.

In addition to early childhood education, Cronin’s campaign is pushing for social and emotional best practices in grades K-12; the creation of a partnership in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics education to create new career pathways for graduates, and ensuring teachers in Cambridge are as diverse at the students they teach.